And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations;
This is one of those passages that always strikes fear into the hearts of Sunday School children when its their turn for public Bible reading, as they struggle to pronounce all the exotic names. The most interesting name from the attackers is Ellasar (‘Ellacar , God is chastener), though they all have similarly grandiose names which may not be spiritually significant.
[That these] made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
On defense, we are most interested in Bera (Bera`, son of evil) king of Sodom (C@dom, burning) and Birsha (Birsha`, with iniquity) king of Gomorrah (`Amorah, submersion). Nasty names, which imply to me they may have been given after the fact, and are used here for convenience. Then again, maybe some kings exulted in a negative image, like modern-day rappers.
I’ll skip the details of the battle and go right to the punchline:
And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way. And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
So, right away we see one downside of hanging out with evildoers — one gets taken up (laqach) by their intrigues. It sounds like warfare in this time was more about slaves and plunder than territory or killing.
And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these [were] confederate with Abram.
I find this a fascinating contrast. Where Lot was ruined by the actions of his neighbors, Abram is strengthened by alliance (b@riyth) with his, particularly Mamre (Mamre’, strength or fatness) — despite his being a Hebrew foreigner (`Ibriy, one from beyond) and their being prestigious Amorites (‘Emoriy, Speaker).
And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained [servants], born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued [them] unto Dan.
Abram appears to have prepared for situations like this, having trained (chaniyk) — not hired — 318 men whom he is able to arm (ruwq). It also sounds like he doesn’t hestitate or fret on hearing the news, but acts immediately.
And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which [is] on the left hand of Damascus.
And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.
This is where the plot thickens:
And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that [were] with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which [is] the king’s dale.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he [was] the priest of the most high God.
His auspicious name, abrupt appearance, and dramatic actions have provided amble fodder for millennia of speculation, not least because of his surprising designation as priest (kohen) of the most high God (‘elyown ‘el). But let us just join him focusing on Abram:
And he blessed him, and said, Blessed [be] Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
Mel clearly adopts a spiritual perspective, in praising God (rather than Abram’s military skill) for the victory. Abram responds by giving Mel the first recorded tithe (ma`aser). This is in sharp contrast to Sodom, who wants to honor Abram:
And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.
Despite the apparently generous and humane gesture, Abram will have none of this:
And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not [take] from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that [is] thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:
Though, interestingly, he doesn’t impose his view on his allies:
Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.
What’s going on? Well, I presume that the main reason this story is preserved is that it reveals the character of Abram. Abram, again in contrast to Lot, demonstrates that he cares about kinship more than wealth, and values good neighbors above easy surroundings. He prepares and executes thoughtfully, yet gives the glory to God. He is discerning both in whom he rewards and whom he allows to reward him, yet is careful in imposing his ascetic rules on those he works with.
Which is a pretty impressive example of what I consider transformational thinking (and acting). Willing to use wealth, but not be beholden to it. Valuing people above things. Choosing one’s friends carefully. Using one’s mind, body, and resources wisely, but to glorify God.
May we do as well.
God, thank you for the example of Abram. Teach me wisdom, humility, and discernment, that I may live a transforming life. May I be one who is able and willing to rescue others out of the strength you’ve blessed me with, not one who needs to be rescued due to my folly and bad associations. May I give you glory in all things, even when I can’t recognize your hand. Amen.